Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated today as the first African-American president so I thought it would be a good time to point out an irony of today’s events. The inauguration is happening in a city where more than 300,000 African-American citizens don’t have the right to be represented in Congress. Actually, it’s almost 600,000 people who don’t have representation, 57% of whom are African-American.
Because it’s not a state, but rather a federal district, Washington DC doesn’t have Senators, and it’s lone US Representative doesn’t have voting power in the House of Representatives. There are 4 states with fewer than 700,000 people, all of them (Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont) have more than 95% White folks. They each have 2 Senators and 3 Representatives.
The history of Washington DC makes this injustice even more poignant. The capital was built by slaves. In fact, the large black population is due to the fact that DC was a major hub of the slave trade.
Back in the 80’s Jesse Jackson lobbied to have Senate representation for DC, virtually guaranteeing two black Senators. Before Barack Obama, there were only 4 black Senators. Ever. Obama and his recent replacement increased that number by 50%.
The mayor of Washington DC has limited power, since decisions by the municipal government has to be approved by a federal committee, dominated by southern whites. Consequently, schools and other public services are chronically underfunded.
There are other US territories that don’t have federal representation, like Puerto Rico and Guam, but they don’t have to pay federal taxes and are not subject to federal laws. Residents of Washington, on the other hand, pay more taxes than 19 states. That’s a lot of taxation without any representation.
It’s ridiculous and egregious that the people who live in the capital of the self-professed beacon of democracy, cannot elect officials to represent them. Whatever the legal hurdles are that are needed to correct this glaring mass discrimination, needed to be done yesterday. I know there are many pressing issues that the new administration needs to address, but securing voting rights for half a million people is so basic that it needs to be on the top of the list.